SEATTLE, Washington — According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation. Each year, at least 3 million more girls are in danger of being subject to the procedure. The worst concentration of female genital mutilation is in Somalia where 98 percent of females have undergone this risky and painful procedure. Recently, there has been a movement to end female genital mutilation in Somalia.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) defines female genital mutilation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The procedure can have many immediate complications associated with it, especially if the instruments used to conduct the operation are improperly cleaned.
Infections can sometimes be so severe, that the girl can die. This was the case in 2018 in Somalia when a 10-year-old girl died from complications after undergoing the procedure. Other complications can include pain and difficulty having sex; bleeding, cysts and abscesses; difficulty holding in urine; depression and self-harm and complications during pregnancy and childbirth that can endanger the mother’s life as well as the baby’s
Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia
The high number of women and girls that undergo female genital mutilation in Somalia is largely is due to cultural, ethnic and religious practices that have been present in Somalia for centuries. regardless of the obvious and widespread negative health consequences, the practice has persisted due to entrenched cultural beliefs.
The cultural beliefs are so strong, that many people in Somalia believe that women who are not “cut” are “not spiritually clean, and they cannot pray.” In Somalia, where many have lived their life in accordance with Sharia Law since 2009, being unpure is the most dishonorable label that one can have. Therefore, the practice continues.
Religious Leaders and UNFPA
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working with religious leaders to educate and sensitize them to the dangers of female genital mutilation in Somalia. These leaders hold a critical role in influencing what Somalians believe. The fact that so many are taking a stand against female genital mutilation in Somalia may be the inciting factor for the anti-female genital mutilation movement there to gain traction.
The region of Puntland in Somalia has seen the most progress among religious scholars with regards to ending female genital mutilation. Engaging these leaders has even led the Sheiks and Imams to sign a “Fatwa,” or a religious ruling, outlawing all of these practices. Along with the Fatwa, religious leaders made the statement, “There is no single verse in the Qur’an that obligates Muslims to circumcise their daughters.”
The Ifrah Foundation
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been working to eradicate the practice of genital mutilation. In Somalia, the Ifrah Foundation was created with the sole purpose of eradicating female genital mutilation. It works to bring women’s rights issues to light in the Somali government. In order to achieve their goals, it has implemented a “Model of Systemic Change” Program where they work with key stakeholders and influencers that can have a strong hand in bringing about change.
The Ifrah Foundation operates off of three pillars of awareness, advocacy and community empowerment. The Ifrah Foundation is currently working with other NGOs and the Somali government to continue pushing for the government’s growing support over signing an official female genital mutilation ban into legislation. The organization played an important role in the Attorney General’s decision to pursue prosecution for the death of the 10-year-old girl in 2018.
Progress is being made towards the eradication of female genital mutilation in Somalia. The movements against the practice are garnering more support each year. There is still hope for Somalia despite the daunting figures. Support from the international community, NGOs and religious scholars have made progress in its eradication and are projected to gain more momentum.
– Graham Gordon